It was a beautiful morning. One of the best since Malageth and Reentu died. He finally had permission to make the promise with Halgreth. He and Halgreth would be Promised tomorrow and begin their new lives in Mantu's own home.
Now that Malgreth and Reentu were gone, the house and land were his, as the oldest male. They had not been back to the house since the burial a little over a week ago. Mantu had to go back today to get fresh clothes and his promise ring.
He picked up the small cloth bag that Malageth made to hold the ring. He held it in his hand and sat on the end of his bed.
I remember when you gave this to me, Mother. The ring keep still has your smell. I wish you were here for this moment. I wanted so much for you to be here for my promise. Now, even Bimeny is gone. I love her, Mother, and I miss you very much. The tears began to well up in his eyes as Halgreth walked by and saw his emotional scene unfolding.
"Hey, there will be none of that today or tomorrow." She knelt down and then slid sideways to sit on the floor, with her arm on the bed and her hand on Mantu's knee.
She saw the ring keep in his hand. "She wouldn't want this promise made through tears. I am sure she watches from beyond the veil. Better not let her see you crying on this day before our promise or she may come back as an ass, just to kick you." She smiled gently and he lifted his eyes to meet hers. The look paused a moment as he leaned over to kiss her softly.
"You're right, she would probably do just that." His gaze returned to the ring in his hand.
"Are you going to show it to me or make me wait until the promise moment?"
Mantu smiled and opened the drawstring on the ring keep. Holding his hand under hers, he gently turned the bag upside down allowing the ring to tumble softly into his bride's waiting hand.
"This was my grandmother's, and it was her grandmother's before her. This ring shall not go to our daughter, as she will have my mother's ring. This must go to our granddaughter. It has been so, for generations. It should be mother giving it to you and giving you a kiss on the cheek this day before the promise. We have no girls in this generation, so it passes to the oldest son."
Halgreth lifted it to her face, squinting, to see it properly in the dim light of the room. She walked to the window and held it in the sunbeam. It glimmered in the sunlight.
"Oh, Mantu, it's beautiful and it's really old. There's writing on the outside on the bottom, but I've never seen this word before. What does it mean?"
"I don't know, I never looked at it properly, I guess. What is the word?"
"Drag...sputh...gras...pat...chio. Dragsputhgraspatchio, what does it mean?"
"No clues, maybe some 'old tongue' blessing. Mom said we've had it in our family for generations. Those we could ask are gone, so it may remain a mystery."
"Nonsense, we will just have to find the word in a record and see how it's used. But the ring is truly beautiful. Look, this looks like a dragon the way it wraps around the stones."
"Let's get busy, we've got a lot to do if half the town is coming here after the promise ceremony tomorrow. I just wish Bimeny could be here. He should be beside me too."
"You know he can't, Mantu, but he is with you in heart and spirit. I'm sure he would be here if he could."
"Molly, you look so much older tonight. Mother would be so proud of you. Your dinner was wonderful, but you always did have Mother's touch with the spices," Halgreth said as she hugged her little sister. "It seems like yesterday, Mother brought you home. Now look at you, a grown woman."
Hamu took Molly's hands and looked her in the eyes, "You look so much like your mother. I know she is proud of you, and I am also. It was a dinner that your mother couldn't even match." Molly beamed as she set about cleaning up with Halgreth.
Hamu and Mantu went out onto the porch. Hamu got out his pipe and packed it. He sat back on the railing and looked off towards the twin moons rising and drew on his pipe. As he exhaled, he looked at Mantu, "Thank you, I was hoping that you would ask for the promise. I really didn't like Prutac all that much and with you, I know she will never go hungry and that she will be safe. I will be proud to have you as a son, Mantu. I have only one more to worry about now."
"Thank you, Hamu. I will always treat her well and protect her with my life. And it is I who am honored to be called son by you. I only wish Mother were here to see us promised," Mantu said, looking down. They sat there in total silence for a few minutes. Mantu noticed a tear forming in Hamu's eye. He leaned forward so that he was inches away from his ear and he whispered, "I think she loved you too." He walked away into the yard as the tears ran down Hamu's cheek.
It was a few minutes later when Halgreth came out on the porch. She noticed the tears on her father's face as he turned away from her.
"Father, let's open that lovely bottle of wine." As she slipped past her father, allowing him to dry his tears, she took Mantu's arm and escorted her two men back in the house where Molly was waiting with a tray and three glasses.
Hamu looked at Molly and the three glasses. "My dear, you are now the woman of the house, I think you are old enough to drink with us. Please get another glass and join us."
Hamu took the tray from her and set it down, his eyes seeking the bottle on the mantle. "This fine strawberry wine was bottled just after dear Halgreth came to us. The strawberries were sweet that year. I have sampled this wine a few times over the years and its flavor is unsurpassed. Like my dear Halgreth, it has become sweeter every season."
Hamu opened the wine, gently smelling the sweet aroma of the cork. Molly returned with her glass as Hamu poured and he paused pouring his own to tend to her excitement and anticipation of this glass of wine. For her, this marked the day she was considered an adult.
Molly hurried to taste her wine as Hamu gently placed his finger on her arm to stay the attempt. She froze, realizing that with the glass, came a tradition which she knew nothing about. She blushed at having rushed the moment.
Hamu raised his glass and spoke. "To your Mother, for giving Mantu a wonderful wife and me a wonderful daughter. And to Malageth and Reentu, for giving us a wonderful, strong and honest husband for our Halgreth. I wish they were all here to witness the promise. And to Mantu and Halgreth, may you have many long and wonderful seasons together and give me many grandchildren to spoil."
They matched glasses and drank. It was the sweetest, most wonderful wine Mantu had ever tasted. The strawberry flavor was so strong you would swear it was fresh fruit exploding in your mouth. They savored it and drank it slowly.
Molly's eyes welled up as the wine began to work. The reality of her situation was beginning to really sink in. Her mother was gone, her sisters were all gone and Halgreth was leaving. She was going to wake up in the morning and be alone. Halgreth was always there. She was missing Halgreth already, and she wasn't even gone.
Halgreth noticed that she went silent. "I'm not leaving, really. We are sharing the land. You will be over at our place as much as we are going to be here! We'll have two houses and one family, you'll see. It will be fine. And you will be a fine Lady of the House."
Molly managed a meek smile and took a breath. She was back in her "Lady of the House" mindset. "You have a big day tomorrow. We'd better turn in, don't you think?"
"I think you're right," Halgreth said, her smile brimming. "Shall we?" Halgreth said, taking her arm and turning towards the stairs. She gave Mantu a little wink as she left the room.
Halgreth returned a short time later. "She is asleep. I don't think her head is going to feel very good in the morning."
"Well, I think it is my bedtime too. I shall leave you two love birds to your last night with separate souls. I shall see you both for breakfast," Halgreth said with a smile.
Hamu said as he stood up, "Well, it is time for me to sleep also. I must be up early in the morning with the corn. Good night." And Hamu excused himself and left the young lovers alone on the porch.
"Good morning, Molly," Halgreth said, knowing her little sister was not going to be in good shape after the amount of wine she had the night before.
"Good morning," Molly said, adding the grease to the frying pan and squeezing her temples with her free hand as the fat began to sizzle. The smell of bacon began to fill the room.
"Halgreth! Watch the fire!" Molly said quickly as she bolted out the door towards the bathroom.
Halgreth took to the stove, knowing Molly would not be back. The bacon smell was too much for her.
"Good morning!" Hamu and Mantu said, smiling as they came into the kitchen.
"Hmmm, smells good. Where's Molly?" Mantu asked as he snuck his hands around her waist.
"She was having an argument with the bacon grease when I came in. It seems she thought it was yelling at her," Halgreth said, smiling as she shoveled eggs and potatoes onto the waiting men's plates.
"Should I call her? Food and some tea might help."
"Ah, no father, I don't think she is interested in putting anything 'in' her right at the moment. I think she is busy getting rid of anything she ate yesterday at the moment. The last I saw her, she was headed out back."
"Oh, the poor thing. I feel for her." Hamu said, trying not to chuckle too loud as he spoke.
"I'll go tend to her. We have to be going soon anyways."
"Go? Where do we have to go today? I thought we would just lounge around today and get fat. After all, you've just served us this fine meal. I was really thinking of a nap." Mantu said with a subtle wink towards Hamu.
"Where indeed, Mantu! You know well where we are supposed to be going." Halgreth said, starting to get frantic.
Mantu scooped her in his arms and quieted her rant with a passionate kiss. They broke apart, Halgreth still looking lovingly into the eyes of her man. "Maybe a nap wouldn't be so bad. Dad, when do we have to be there?" she said, going back in for more smooches.
"Ah well, we really should be going, uh..." he said, standing and leaning to within inches of the couples ears, "...soon."
He turned and grabbed a cup and filled it from the teapot and placed two slices of toast in the towel covering the bread basket. "I'll take poor Molly some tea and toast and see if I can bring her around. Uh, Mantu, if she doesn't have her fangs too deeply embedded in your tongue, we'll need for you to call a couple of your friends to pull the wagon."
With breakfast behind them, they all loaded into a wagon and Mantu spoke with the horse, and it delivered them to the town square without guidance or reins. When the wagon came to a stop, Hamu helped Halgreth and Molly down.
The town was busy, but it was as if there was forewarning. People were dressed a little neater today. Eyes and smiles turned their way as they walked towards the square.
There was a white marble plinth that rose from the ground about knee high. It had three white marble steps leading to a hexagonal deck just large enough for about eight or ten people to stand comfortably. It was the Plinth of Promise. To the side was a tall pole with a large bronze bell on it.
"Are you ready? No second thoughts?" Hamu asked looking at Halgreth.
"I'm ready father. No second thoughts," she said, looking into Mantu's eyes.
"Mantu, it is usually the father of the groom who tolls the bell, and since Bimeny can't be here, then it is you or me. Your arms appear full at the moment and I think she fears you will run away if she lets go," he said, smiling. "With your permission..." he said reaching for the bell cord.
"Yes, please... Father," he said with a smile. Upon hearing Mantu call him Father, a great smile grew upon his face and he pulled the cord ringing the bell.
Molly cringed with each toll of the bell. She had promised herself silently to never do that again.
As the bell continued to ring, people appeared from businesses and shops. The town recorder came with his great book and quill and stationed himself at a bench designed for the record keeper on the side of the plinth. The bench also had a place to set the great Journal for the record keeper to write comfortably. This was the place and procedure for all town meetings and records. Hamu waited until everyone settled in and he got the nod from the scribe. Hamu raised his hands for quiet and the crowd went silent.
"I am Hamu, the father of Halgreth. This man has asked my permission to make the promise to my lovely daughter. My daughter wishes also to make the promise to this man. I have deemed this man worthy and have even warned him about my daughter's temper." At this, Halgreth slapped her father's arm playfully and the crowd roared with laughter. He went on, "And I have granted my blessings upon this promise. We are here now to hear the promises spoken to each other and to you, the community. Mantu, speak your promise."
Mantu turned to Halgreth, "Dearest Halgreth, my promise to you is to keep you as my own, to speak only truth and to act only with honor for all of our days. I confess my love for you and only for you from this day forward, forever more. Will you accept my promise?"
Halgreth savored the moment. Her pause started to give concern to both Mantu and Hamu, but soon enough she stepped forward, "I accept your promise in front of these witnesses. And I further give you my promise. I promise to love you no matter what. I will love you and only you and will act with honor in all things that I should never shame you. I also confess my love to you, and only you. Will you accept my promise?"
Mantu did not wait on the moment at all and he replied "Yes," and kissed her soundly for several minutes.
While they were engaged, Hamu smiling, broadly stepped forward and said, "Each has accepted the other's promise, you have all heard the words. The record has been made. I now announce the two as one. What each has, they both now have. Any and all are invited to the home of Mantu and Halgreth at the former home of Malageth and Reentu, for three days of singing and celebrating. Thank you for coming and hearing the words of my new son and my daughter." Hamu rang the bell again to mark the end of the meeting. He then turned to Mantu who was still deeply engaged in his kiss. "If you are not somehow locked together, then perhaps we should continue this in the wagon, or the guests will have arrived before we are there to receive them." They reluctantly disengaged and headed for the wagon.
After boarding the wagon, Mantu and Halgreth immediately resumed their consummation kiss. After sitting there for a couple of minutes, Hamu leaned over and said, "Mantu, you must speak to the horse, we have no reins." Halgreth broke into laughter and Mantu snapped his fingers and the horse took off.
When they arrived home, Molly began to prepare lunch. They had much to do before the guests started to arrive. The men started a fire in the pit so they could start cooking the pig. At this point, they were both wishing Bimeny was there. He would have made short work of the fire. It was sad that Bimeny had to miss the ceremony, but it was his absence that made it possible. No one had seen him watching silently from a nearby rooftop. Bimeny had then silently flown off to start his task in Raven Plat.
People came in droves. Haven Plat was not a place that shunned a party and everyone involved was well known and well liked by the townsfolk. Mantu had his own following, as a very large herd of horses, both domestic and wild showed up for the party. While the humans were dancing and drinking, the horses were having their own festivities, running, jumping, dancing and kicking. A good time was being had by all.
The food was finally ready and the mead was running freely. Ocasionally, a horse would sneak over and steal a glass of mead from someone. Before long there were quite a few very drunk horses and quite a few very drunk men as well.
Mantu was well on his way to becoming very drunk when a horse wandered over to Mantu. He spoke in horse speak to Mantu.
"Mantu, there are guards coming in the gate. They don't look like they are here for the party." Mantu snapped into sobriety. He asked the horse to talk to the others and stall them. He also asked for two sober steeds to go around back and wait by the door for him and Halgreth. The horse left him to organize the delay and to arrange for the transport. The wild horses were happy to help stall the approaching guard, but they wanted no part of transporting the humans. He spoke to a group of horses and they moved as a group to block the road in.
Mantu went and found Hamu and told him what the horse had told him. Hamu went and spoke to some of his trusted friends while Mantu found Halgreth and brought her up to speed.
He took Halgreth out the back door and helped her onto a horse. At that moment three guards came from the woods.
"Mantu! A trap." Halgreth said, pointing towards the three.
One was knocking up an arrow to shoot at Halgreth. Mantu smacked the horse and told him to run a staggered pattern away from the house. He reached inside the door and got his bow. Before the guard could even draw his arrow to launch it, Mantu knocked one and loosed it right on target, killing the archer. He knocked another and loosed it on the second guard, but the third was upon him before he could repeat the task. He had taken the last two guards out with such incredible speed that the third was awestruck that Mantu had dispatched them so quickly.
"Were you not a wanted man, I would have you teach our bowman. Too bad you won't be around long enough to teach anyone anything." And with that, he hit Mantu in the back of the head with a club and Mantu dropped to the ground like a rock.
Hamu rounded the building with several of his friends.
"What are you doing?" he said, looking down at Mantu. The guard pulled a sword and held it to Hamu's throat so fast that Hamu thought he was going to lose his head.
"He is under arrest," the guard said.
"For what?" Hamu asked.
"Subversion," the guard said, "Now, who else wants to come along? We have lots of room in the wagons." Hamu noticed that the rest of the guard had made it through the roadblock and were now in a circle around them. Hamu put his arms out to his sides and backed up, pushing his friends back and away. He was signaling them not to do anything and they all took the hint and dispersed.
"Where is the girl?" one of the guards asked the one with Mantu.
"She got away on a horse."
"Doesn't matter. He's the one she wants anyways." When Hamu heard that Halgreth got away, he exhaled a sigh of relief.
When Mantu next saw light, he was in Raven Plat looking at Merabeth.
"Where is his wife?" Merabeth asked.
"Elder Merabeth, she got away. He charmed the horse to run a staggered pattern and was able to dispatch our archer and a second guard before we could take him down. He was the fastest, most accurate archer I have ever seen. The archer he shot held the garrison record for speed and accuracy," the guard said with a certain amount of admiration.
"It sounds like you admire him," Merabeth said, looking at the guard.
"It is true that I respect the skill. But the second guard was my cousin. Say the word, and he'll be dead before the echo of your voice stops."
"Take him in the next room and keep him quiet. Be ready when I call to present him. If you are the least bit slow when I call you, it could mean all our deaths. Do I make myself clear?" she asked.
"Yes, Elder Merabeth," he said, placing a fist across his chest. Grabbing Mantu by the arm, he moved through the door to the next room, where he sat Mantu on a chair right beside the door.
"Remain quiet or we will not have to wait for her words for you to die," the guard said to Mantu.
"If it is my little brother who is coming, then I am the least of your problems. Surely you have heard of the dragon boy who single-handedly killed Gandoo and nearly all of the Haven Plat guard," Mantu said, encouraging fear and uncertainty in the guard. "As I understand it, when he belches fire on you, you go mad from the pain long before you die. I understand that it hits you so quick that even the fastest runners can't get away, even if you're running before he starts. Man, I've seen it and it ain't pretty. I'm glad I'm not in your shoes. You have any kids?" Mantu asked.
The guard was starting to look nervous. "Why don't you just shut up, before I gag you?" the guard said, while looking through the curtains to see what was outside.
"Well alright, I just figured you ought to know what you've gotten yourself into. I mean, if she thinks he won't fry her or you because I am here, then she has a surprise coming. My brother and I had a falling out, and right now he would just as soon fry me as you! He tried to burn me, but I jumped just in time. Instead, he burned down my barn. Frankly, I was pretty happy it was the barn burning. But now, we're ALL doomed," Mantu said, quietly looking down at the floor.
"Shut up! I'll not warn you again!" the guard said firmly.
Mantu knew that he had pushed this guy as far as he dared. But he also knew that he stirred the guard's insides up with a spoon. Beads of sweat started to form on his brow as he nervously watched out the window, waiting for Bimeny to arrive.